Norwood’s journey to Super Bowl history

Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Norwood poses with his brothers Levi, left, and Zac, right, after the AFC Championship game on Jan. 24.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Norwood poses with his brothers Levi, left, and Zac, right, after the AFC Championship game on Jan. 24. Photo provided

It’s Monday, Feb. 1 — just two days away from National Signing Day — and Brian Norwood’s car has become his office.

Driving from house to house, checking in on recruits, Norwood, an associate head coach at Tulsa, has a few minutes here and there to catch up on everything.

And for a minute, he was able to reminisce.

Norwood remembers as a kid watching NFL powerhouses like the Steelers, Cowboys, Dolphins and Washington solidify their spots in history at the Super Bowl.

“Now to have a child play in it is surreal,” he said.

Norwood’s son, Jordan, a State College Area High School and Penn State graduate, is set to play in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, as his Denver Broncos face the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

It’s a feat the Norwoods are still processing. Just two seasons ago, Jordan was released for the fourth time in his then-five-year NFL career.

So for someone like Jordan Norwood — undersized, undrafted and underestimated — Sunday is about perseverance.

Dave Lintal can’t put a finger on who the Little Lions were playing, but the play will forever own real estate in his memory.

In the 2004 playoffs, Norwood baffled his head coach.

“I remember him going up, leaping, catching a ball, and somebody coming and cutting his legs out from under him,” Lintal said. “He came down, and landed on the back of his shoulders and his head. He hung on to the football, got up, and just jogged back to the huddle. I thought, ‘how in the heck did he even get up, let alone hang on to the football?’ ”

Lintal, while stunned, wasn’t necessarily surprised. Norwood made acrobatic plays before, whether it was on the football field or basketball court.

Norwood had a knack for the spectacular, a tendency to befuddle.

Which was quite contradictory to Lintal’s initial impression of Norwood.

Norwood moved to State College before his junior season, and when he first put on a Little Lion uniform, he stood at 5-foot-7, 125 pounds.

“He’s this short guy, you know, real skinny, very slim, and you think, ‘eh jeez, OK, he’s a nice kid and everything,’ ” Lintal said. “Then you get him on the football field.”

Norwood’s not too different in size, currently listed by the Broncos at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds.

“And when he came to State College, he had a lot more hair than he does now,” Lintal joked. “But he looks the same.”

Size was never a hindrance to Norwood. He was a consistent receiver, sure-handed and dependable.

That trustworthiness extended off the gridiron, too.

“As great as he is on the field, he’s as good or better off the field,” Lintal said. “He’s one of those people you could always count on. He always did the right thing. ... He’s just an awesome individual.”

On March 22, 2003, in State College’s televised 76-71 overtime upset of Chester in the PIAA Class AAAA boys’ basketball state title game, Norwood showed off everything — his speed, balance and leaping ability.

At 5-foot-8, he could dunk.

That piqued the interest of then-Penn State head coach Joe Paterno.

“When they made the run for the state title, coach Paterno was really intrigued by his athleticism and quickness,” Brian Norwood said. “Coach Paterno wasn’t caught up on size. It was more of an intrinsic thing.”

Paterno’s interest wasn’t swayed by a certain member of his staff, either.

Despite being an assistant coach at Penn State at the time, Brian Norwood didn’t have a hand in Jordan’s recruitment.

He didn’t want anything to do with it.

“I made sure I wasn’t involved with it,” the safeties coach noted.

After being lightly recruited, Norwood landed at Penn State — and made the most of his opportunities. He was effective as a freshman, recording 32 receptions for 422 yards, and those numbers would only grow. After a senior campaign of 41 catches, 637 yards and six touchdowns, Norwood finished his Penn State career with 158 receptions, 2,015 yards and 13 scores.

But would that body of work get him into the NFL?

After going undrafted, Norwood was signed to practice squads, promoted to active rosters, cut and waived several times, making stops with the Cleveland Browns (twice), Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On his 14th NFL transaction, Norwood was finally home. He signed with Denver during the 2014 offseason, and, according to local media reports at the time, he was turning heads in Broncos’ training camp.

Which made what happened on Aug. 25, 2014, all the more heartbreaking.

Going up for a pass in practice, Norwood tore his anterior cruciate ligament, ending his season.

It would have broken many spirits, but Norwood’s father believes it only strengthened Jordan.

“It really allowed him to grow as a man and push his faith,” Brian Norwood said. “(The Super Bowl is) a reward for sticking to it.”

Jordan Norwood will be the second State College graduate to play in the Super Bowl.

The first was fullback Matt Suhey, a member of the storied 1985 Chicago Bears. He scored a touchdown in the Bears’ 46-10 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl 20.

Oddly enough, Norwood’s quarterback at State College was Kevin Suhey, Matt’s nephew.

That connection, coupled with Norwood’s time at State College, has Lintal beaming with pride.

“What a great story,” Lintal said. “It’s so nice to see someone like him get into the Super Bowl. Who would’ve ever thought?”

Brian Norwood thought his son could do it.

“It would just have to be the right opportunity at the right place,” he said.

In Denver, Norwood has found that place. After recovering from his torn ACL, Norwood has totaled 25 receptions on 39 targets for 233 yards this season. Thirteen of his receptions have gone for first downs.

He has also returned punts for the Broncos. In the AFC Championship against New England, Norwood handled three punts, including a 16-yard return.

With an opportunity to break one loose against Carolina, Norwood’s family wouldn’t miss a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Brian Norwood said Jordan’s older brother Gabe, also a member of that state-championship State College basketball team and a current professional basketball player in the Philippines, was excused from team duties to make the trip to California, along with his wife and two kids.

It’ll be the first time the couple meets their nephew — Jordan and his wife had their first child in November.

Jordan will also have the support of his brothers, Zaccariah and Levi, and sister, Brianna, at Levi’s Stadium.

For that, and many reasons, Brian Norwood said Jordan is excited.

Jordan himself, after years of hard work, from State College to Santa Clara, still can’t believe he’s on the doorstep of Super Bowl Sunday.

“I still don’t think I’m quite there,” Norwood told Ryan Koenigsberg, of BSNDenver. “I’m just taking every day as its own and working hard.

“I’m extremely happy to be where I am right now.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9